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The theory of planned behaviour

Dr Uwe Klein and Manfred Mühlfelder, Heiko Finn, and Patrick Blume

360° – the Business Transformation Journal

1 August 2014

Do the attitudes, beliefs and intentions of the stakeholders have an impact on the success and the effectiveness of the business transformation process? Your spontaneous answer might be: “Yes, of course! But how?” The Theory of Planned Behaviour helps you to understand the psychological mechanisms behind behavioural change in business transformation projects.

In this article the authors are connecting the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TBP) with the Business Transformation Management Methodology (BTM2). The key questions discussed here are: How do behavioural, normative and control beliefs of relevant stakeholders influence their attitudes, intentions and behaviour in a business transformation process? How does their behaviour reflect strategic and operational elements of the BTM2 framework? How can the Theory of Planned Behaviour be effectively applied in business transformation processes in order to motivate the stakeholders involved to actively change their behaviour?

The goal is to build a bridge from action-oriented psychological research to business transformation practice. The underlying assumption is that understanding and changing human behaviour is a key driver for the success or failure of a business transformation in any industry, economy and culture.

However, forward-looking companies will have to open up to multiple sources of innovation and integrate their R&D activities with daily operations as the case of Open Innovation shows. Innovation processes are radically changing as the involvement of customers and users has become a central part of many innovation activities. Chesbrough (2003) calls this phenomenon “open innovation” (OI). The OI model systematically encourages and explores a wide range of internal and external sources of innovation and integrates them with the company’s own Research & Development (R&D) capabilities and resources (Chesbrough et al. 2006). In contrast to the traditional model of closed innovation, where the company’s own R&D results have been used for the creation of new products and services, the assimilation of externally generated knowledge requires changing some fundamental beliefs regarding creativity and innovation.

Behavioural beliefs

Many companies have been successful in the past by applying the traditional innovation model, i.e. setting up a R&D division and separating research and design activities from business operations. However, forward-looking companies will have to open up to multiple sources of innovation and integrate their R&D activities with daily operations. Negative beliefs and fears that opening up might cause harm to one's own company must be challenged. R&D employees and top managers often favour their own company as their “in-group” over other channels of innovation and aim for positive distinction from their “out-groups”. Based on these behavioural beliefs, OI brings a potential threat for the R&D employees, and this threat might block external knowledge as a consequence of a defensive mechanism to restore group identity and their self-esteem. In order to assimilate these negative beliefs, top managers should promote new perspectives and slogans such as “proudly found elsewhere” as well as show appreciation and compliments for OI to foster new behavioural beliefs in favour of OI as a new paradigm of creativity and innovation.

Normative beliefs

Challenging the “Not Invented Here (NIH)” syndrome continuously plays a crucial role in the transformation process toward an OI culture. Some normative beliefs and subjective norms of “closed” innovation will no longer apply in an OI context. For example, the belief that only one's own peer group has a monopoly of knowledge in its field leads to poor utilisation of external sources for innovation (Hussinger and Wastyn, 2011). Within OI, everybody can be an integral part of any innovation processes. The value proposition of a company is no longer only related to the quality of products or services, but also to how it involves the individuals and social networks in the innovation process. Normative beliefs, which support OI behaviour are, for example, a strong interest in the perspectives of others, building and nurturing networks, and recognising the value of the collaboration with external partners. Effectively fighting the NIH syndrome means to involve and integrate employees, customers, suppliers, and other network partners in a discussion and decision making process.

Control beliefs

OI will clearly reduce the perceived control of R&D employees for driving the innovation process. Presumably, employees in R&D departments are less prone to discuss innovation activities with external parties unless it is within a safe and well defined context such as a conference or a science fair. Moreover, some R&D employees may fear to become redundant if the company opens up to external sources for innovation. Within the traditional model of closed innovation, employees are accustomed to working with clearly defined operational procedures in a sheltered environment. By contrast, in an OI environment the boundaries of the R&D division are less tangible and visible. Increased communication, collaboration, and coordination with other parties are needed, and the more unusual the external partners are, the more difficult working together and developing shared perspectives might be. In order to reduce the uncertainty and to increase the perceived behavioural control of R&D employees in OI processes, it is important to personally get in touch and work with these new external sources of innovation. This will help to build mutual trust and to establish personal relationships. Besides open discussions on control beliefs related to external sources of innovation, building up skills such as introspective and extrospective abilities (understanding ourselves and our partners), interaction (communication, collaboration, and negotiation) and proficiency (technological, financial, and commercial) are some other critical factors for the success of OI initiatives (Mortara et al. 2009).


The Theory of Planned Behaviour is an action-oriented psychological model for describing and explaining the driving forces behind behavioural change in business transformation projects. Of course, not all intentions are triggering actual behaviour, because external or internal limitations, for instance, social norms, laws or conventions, personality traits or individual motivational states, prevent people from performing a specific behaviour. The key concepts and terminologies of TPB can be connected with the BTM2 model and can create the link from the management/organisational level to the behavioural level of the relevant stakeholders. Therefore, transformational leadership (Bass and Avolio, 1994) should explicitly address the relevant beliefs, attitudes and subjective norms of stakeholders and encourage them to openly discuss how a transformation process is affecting, threatening or enlightening their deeply ingrained beliefs and perceptions of the (business) world. Only then, people will take the effort to step into the efforts of behavioural change.

Dr Uwe Klein is a business transformation expert at PA Consulting Group


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